JAMAICA is unlikely to join the global race for nature's treasures at the bottom of the ocean, including nickel, copper and cobalt anytime soon.
These are found in deposits of polymetallic nodules and sulphides, formed over millions of years, on the ocean's floor.
"Jamaica has no plans at the moment to enter into deep seabed mining (DSM), but through its participation in the finalisation of the mining codes and regulations, it is ensuring that the interests of SIDS (small island developing states) are taken into account in the event that there is further interest on our part in this activity," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, in a written response to Environment Watch queries.
The ministry said that Jamaica is, instead, interested in taking advantage of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Endowment Fund.
The fund — which received an initial investment of US$3 million — is designed to promote collaborative marine scientific research in the international seabed area.
It does so through its support of qualified scientists and technical personnel from developing countries in marine scientific research programmes and activities. It also provides opportunities for them to participate in relevant initiatives.
"What is of more immediate relevance (than DSM) is the potential for Jamaica to be involved in scientific research afforded by activities in the deep seabed... Regrettably, not many persons from Jamaica or the wider Caribbean have expressed an interest in this type of activity, which would be useful 'groundwork' as it were, if Jamaica were to become involved in deep seabed mining," the ministry said.
Still, it said the University of the West Indies is playing an active role as a member of the island's delegation to the annual sessions of the ISA — one of which is currently underway in Kingston, where the Authority has its headquarters.
"But," the ministry said, "there is scope for the involvement of more institutions as well as for more tertiary-level students to pursue interests in issues relevant to the law of the sea, such as environmental engineering, maritime sciences and so on so as to take advantage of such opportunities."
Meanwhile, other small islands — through partnerships with private companies — are seeking to get involved in DSM, which many believe could be worth billions, given the untapped potential of the ocean to give up its metals.
Counted among them, according to information from the ISA website, is the Republic of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. Kiribati was one of the five new applicants for seabed exploration who made oral presentations to the Legal and Technical Commission of the ISA on July 10. The application came through Marawa Research and Exploration Ltd, a state enterprise of that country.
The other applicants were UK Seabed Resources Ltd, which was sponsored by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; G-TECH Sea Mineral Resources NV, sponsored by the Government of Belgium; the Government of the Republic of Korea, and IFREMER, sponsored by the Government of France.
The applications are being considered by the Council of the ISA, which opened its 18th session in Kingston last Tuesday. If approved, they will bring to 17 the number of active contracts issued by the ISA.
It was not immediately clear why Jamaica would not pursue partnerships with a private organisation to engage in deep seabed mining, which is a hugely expensive venture, requiring specialised equipment and technical expertise.
Meanwhile, the ministry stopped just short of saying whether it shares the environmental concerns of groups, such as the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, about DSM.
"Given our intrinsic link to oceans and the sea, through our location in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica has a vested interest in ensuring that any activities in these areas, including the deep seabed, are undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner," the ministry noted.
"Part XII of the Convention does speak to the Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment which in Article 192 indicates that States have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment," it added.
In addition, it said that the island has a "robust legislative framework which addresses the various issues that can result from deep seabed mining".
"Jamaica implemented the Maritime Areas Act and the Exclusive Economic Zone Act (1991) which cover most of the aspects of the Convention. In addition, some aspects of the Convention are covered in the Shipping Act and in the Fisheries Law," the ministry said.
Of concern to groups, such as the Deep Sea Mining Campaign — which last October released the report Out of Our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in Papua, New Guinea — is the potential for the destruction of the "habitat for thriving communities of organisms" including some 500 species, which, up to a few years ago, were unknown to man.
Notwithstanding its lack of interest in pursuing deep seabed mining, the ministry said that Jamaica's participation in ISA Assembly meetings is critical.
"...Given that the provisions of the Convention (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) — the constitution of the ocean which safeguards and designates the resources of the Area as the "common heritage of mankind" — it is important for Jamaica as a small island developing state, to maintain an active interest in these issues," the ministry said.